The new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll of the presidential race finds John McCain performing markedly better than George W. Bush did in the Gopher State in nearly identical surveys conducted four years apart.

In the new Strib survey, conducted September 10-12 of 1,106 likely voters, McCain is tied with Barack Obama at 45 percent (similar to SurveyUSA’s new poll of 734 likely voters, which has Obama up 49 to 47 percent).

Four years ago, the Star Tribune poll of 1,035 likely voters, conducted September 7-13, 2004, found John Kerry leading President Bush by a 46 to 39 percent margin.

What is noteworthy about McCain’s current poll numbers in the Gopher State is not simply that they are earned in a much tougher political environment for a Republican nominee than in 2004, but that they are growing in the midst of a much tighter national race than Bush faced at this time four years ago.

In the latest Gallup national tracking poll (conducted September 11-13), McCain is in a statistical tie with Obama, leading 47 to 45 percent among registered voters.

However, Gallup’s mid-September poll back in 2004 (conducted September 13-15) found Bush with an 8-point lead over Kerry, 52 to 44 percent among registered voters (and 55 to 42 percent among likely voters).

In other words, when Gallup polled Bush at 52 percent nationally in 2004, he was only polling at 39 percent by the Star Tribune in Minnesota; four years later, when Gallup polls McCain nationally at just 47 percent, the Star Tribune measures the Arizona Senator’s support statewide to be at 45 percent.

Whether McCain’s boost in the Gopher State is due to the the Palin Effect, residual good will from the home state Republican National Convention, or just a natural tightening of the race in a battleground state, his performance against Obama is particularly noteworthy vis-à-vis Bush’s position back in 2004.